Boston 2024’s shadow government of connected players

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh opposes a referendum on whether Boston should host the 2024 Summer Olympics. So does state Senate President Stan Rosenberg, who says people should trust elected representatives when those officials say they won’t support public money going to the Olympics.

But it’s hard to have much trust in what increasingly looks like a money-grab by a shadow government of connected players.

The MBTA’s recent meltdown under the weight of snow and ice allowed Boston 2024 to argue that the Olympics could be a catalyst to upgrade the area’s public transit. But fixing a system that owes nearly $9 billion in debt and interest and with a maintenance backlog of at least $6.7 billion could cost real money.

At first, Boston 2024 organizers claimed that taxpayers’ only Olympic-related cost would be transportation improvements already in the pipeline. But it turns out they meant any projects included in a $13 billion bond bill Gov. Patrick signed last year. The problem is that bond bills only authorize the commonwealth to borrow money, and just a fraction of the projects in them actually fit within state borrowing limits.

Moreover some of the projects in Boston 2024’s successful bid to the U.S. Olympic Committee aren’t in the bond bill at all, and only a portion of the included projects are actually funded. Building them all would roughly double the $4.5 billion backers claim taxpayers would have to kick in to host the games.

Then there’s the cost of operating and maintaining the assets, which advocates routinely ignore, even though it’s far greater than the initial construction costs over the life cycle of the assets. Remind you of the MBTA?

The people Boston 2024 is bringing on don’t exactly instill confidence. With former Gov. Patrick no longer in power, his supporters’ access to jobs and lucrative consulting gigs is dramatically diminished. Boston 2024 is looking a lot like a lifeboat for a government in exile.

Both Gov. Charlie Baker and Mayor Walsh were blindsided by the announcement that Patrick would serve as a “global ambassador” for Boston 2024. An annoyed Walsh called on the group to come clean about their payroll. When they did, it was unseemly at best to learn that Patrick will earn a mind­ boggling $7,500 for each day he spends traveling on behalf of Boston’s Olympic bid.

He certainly is surrounded by familiar faces. Richard Davey, his former transportation secretary is Boston 2024’s $300,000 per year CEO. His former political consultant Doug Rubin is collecting $15,000 per month and John Walsh, who headed the state Democratic Party under Patrick, is making $10,000 per month. All told, Boston 2024 has 16 consultants on the payroll, in addition to 10 employees earning a total annual salary of $1.4 million.

The fact that Patrick’s second term was a management debacle further diminishes confidence in Boston 2024’s ability to safeguard taxpayer dollars. It was beset with scandals at the Department of Children and Families, the Department of Unemployment Assurance, and the state drug lab, among others. The more than $750 million budget gap Gov. Baker had to close soon after taking office was largely the result of the Patrick administration’s mishandling of the commonwealth’s Affordable Care Act website.

All this is in an effort to land the Summer Olympics, which, since 2000, have cost an average of more than $19 billion to host. Boston 2024 says taxpayers will only need to kick in $4.5 billion but final costs have averaged about three times the estimates included in initial bids during that period.

Under the best of circumstances, hosting the Summer Olympics is a pretty sketchy proposition. But when billions of dollars are on the line and the effort is in the hands of what amounts to an unaccountable shadow government, taxpayers should have the right to guard their own wallets, not trust that elected officials will protect them.

originally published: March 21, 2015

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